Thursday, March 31, 2005

You and Them

Like schizophrenic patients, creative individuals often report odd sensory and perceptual experiences, feelings of restlessness and the inclination towards impulsive outbursts in association with rejection of common social values. -- Antonio Preti and Paola Miotto, Creativity, Evolution and Mental Illnesses

Writers are all a little crazy. Or, at least, that was my impression when I met the first bunch of them six years ago. I made my assumptions based on the behavior of a small insulated group, which was so at odds with my expectations of what other writers would be like that it rocked my little boat. Like that iceberg did the Titanic.

One of my parlor tricks is the way I identify, track and analyze patterns. If numbers didn't bore me to tears, I'd probably be working on Wall Street. But patterns of anything other than numbers -- colors, lines, shapes, sounds, values, actions, etc. -- fascinate me. This is why I have to keep any and all patterns out from my visual field when I'm working, or my attention strays.

That personal quirk was the only thing that kept me from telling Alfred to weld all the access doors shut after meeting my peers. I couldn't see enough of the pattern to make an intelligent analysis. That and eventually meeting another writer who surpassed my expectations, was definitely sane, and whose life experiences were almost identical to mine (because hey, I'm not crazy.) She genuinely screwed up my baseline.

I've learned some things from observing other writers and their group behavior, the most important being the mechanics of self-esteem versus peer ranking. To some degree, all writers want to be regarded as unique, and so they behave as to reinforce their individuality. With apologies to the sensibilities the following statement will outrage, that's a very predictable pattern of behavior among writers. Writers also want to be accepted, admired and/or emulated, thus they gravitate toward groups and competitions which they believe will provide those ego reinforcements. That's another fairly common pattern. Success in publishing largely depends on success with one of these patterns.

Yet with very few exceptions, these two patterns are completely incompatible, which is why I think so many writers are miserable. Have cake or eat it, but not both.

Groups appear powerful. They extend a sense of well-being via tribal acceptance. With it, they offer little opportunity for the majority to achieve success within their structures. You can try, but unless you have the charisma of a natural leader, chances are you'll end up feeling frustrated and rejected. The best you can hope for is acceptance and a few small benefits. It's also good to remember that if you're contemplating joining any group, you won't be rewarded for creativity, only for conformity.

Focusing on your individuality, on the other hand, reinforces the writer's creative foundations. It frees you from the restraints brought on by group expectations and their conformity strait-jacket. Yes, it's lonely, and that's the price you pay, just as the group-joiners sacrifice their individuality in return for the benefits of the group.

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